Archive for February, 2009

Travelling Light

Tuesday, February 24th, 2009

I was laughing the other day at a friend who was telling me about taking his college-aged daughter on a trip.  He lamented the fact that she was taking more bags than the number of days they’d be gone.  I felt bad for him.  Having been a twenty year old girl at one point, I completely understand his daughter’s needs.  Having been a guy all his life, he doesn’t have a clue.

 It reminded me of the first time I went to Florida.  I had no idea what I’d need, and so I packed everything  imaginable, just in case. I had five large bags and two smaller ones (small being relative to how big the other ones were.)  My husband kept questioning why I needed to take so many bags.  Wasn’t there anything I could leave behind?  But he just didn’t understand.  I needed a bag for shoes, so I’d have sandals for the beach and dressier shoes for evening and walking shoes for shopping.  I needed one bag for makeup and hair supplies. A big bag.  One had nothing but bathing suits and beach towels.  One was my purse.  I was not a fan of small purses then.  Two bags contained clothes for every conceivable event, but one was a suit bag so it barely counted.  And, of course, one contained a week’s supply of books.

 Luckily, I was still newly married enough that my husband felt responsible for carrying the heaviest bags.  I think childbirth must be what changes this perk of marriage.  Men think we’re all helpless and weak until they see us lugging the baby with the stroller, car seat, and huge diaper bag along with a carload of packages when returning from the mall.  Then all illusions are shattered, and they let us carry our own luggage.

 I’ve learned to pack a little lighter now, to leave a few things behind and trust that if needed, they can be bought at the nearest Walmart.  So this summer as I packed to go to the beach, I wisely took only what I would really need.  And it all fit nicely in….uh…seven bags.

Friday Communion

Friday, February 20th, 2009

On Friday most weeks, I take communion to members of my church who are in the hospital.  When I volunteered,  I avoided telling people what I did on Friday afternoons.  I did it as a sacrifice, and part of that was sacrificing recognition.  I felt pretty proud of my humility.

But I had forgotten about my fear of hospitals.  Walking in the door causes me to hyperventilate.  Seeing medical equipment causes palpitations.  Looking at people who are connected to medical equipment is like watching the scary parts of horror movies with my eyes open.   There are parishioners I don’t know.  I try to think of things to say, but I’m not particularly good at small talk.  And there are patients I know well, and I stay awhile, and a quick afternoon of visits stretches on into evening.

So each week I call to get a list of parishioners in need of a visit, and each week, I pray that everyone will be healthy and I won’t have to go.  The more I hope I won’t need to go, the longer the list for that week is likely to be.  I dutifully force myself through that door to make my rounds, visiting, praying, offering communion with the Lord, and trying not to throw up.

And as I leave each week, as I pray on my way out for the needs of those I’ve visited, I feel blessed to have been able to do what I had dreaded only an hour or two earlier.  Jesus doesn’t ask us to minister to others for the good of those in need.  It’s for our own good, for our own growth.  When I put my own comfort aside for the good of someone else, I’m the one who’s blessed.

So I started telling people about what I do on Friday afternoon.  God turns a couple of hours of terror into an evening of joy each week. Try it.  He’ll do the same for you.

Defeated By a Cookie

Tuesday, February 17th, 2009

I love Girl Scout cookies.  Not all of them, actually.  Just Thin Mints. There is nothing out there that is just like a Thin Mint. Substitutes won’t do.  You can only get them once a year.  I buy a case.

They can be frozen.  Think you have to wait for them to thaw?  Of course not, they’re great straight out of the freezer.  They can be crumbled on ice cream.  They can be given as gifts, because while you might not give your friend Oreos for her birthday, a true Thin Mint lover will know that giving up a box is a real sacrifice.

A serving is one whole sleeve.  Oh, I know the box says something silly like four cookies.  Everyone knows they lie.  The only way to stop at four cookies is to leave the sleeve in the freezer.  That way you have to exercise by walking to the kitchen to get another cookie.

In general, I’m pretty unhappy with the policies and practices of the Girl Scouts. I don’t have a problem with local troops, but the larger organization seems to have abandoned traditional values in pursuit of trendiness.  I’m glad my daughters are past the Girl Scout stage.  I’d think twice now about allowing them to be part of that larger organization.  I want to follow my conscience and withdraw my support.

But I’m defeated by Thin Mints.

Growing Up

Thursday, February 12th, 2009

Ever think about the term “grow up?”  What does that mean?

We spend all our energy from the time can think clearly working to grow up.  Little kids talk about what they will be when they grow up. Teens dream of the freedom they will have when they grow up.  We graduate from high school, and most people think they’re there. That’s it, I’m out of school, I’m grown up.

But then there’s college, with your parents paying part of the tab, checking on your grades, and setting curfews when you’re home for the weekend.  After college, if you move back home, are you growing backwards?  Are you grown up if your parents don’t pay for your wedding?  Does growing up have anything to do with age or life’s milestones?

I’m a middle aged woman with children who are themselves nearly grown up.  I have finally come to realize that, like a child, I usually don’t face the hard things in life.  I have lived with my head in the sand for so long I can barely breathe in fresh air.  When life is scary, I always run away.

I am learning now that facing fears is a big part of what makes us grown up.  Working through problems instead of hiding from them, dealing honestly with people instead of telling them what you think they want to hear, going forward when you think you can’t move a step, these things are part of growing up.  I don’t think they happen all at once, or at any age or milestone.  I think that maybe we never finish growing up.  For every level of maturity we reach, there’s more to reach for.  We can be stronger and braver.  We can be better than we think.  Things in life happen that stretch us as far as we can go. And if we don’t break, we grow.

Forever In Blue Jeans

Monday, February 9th, 2009

My favorite blue jeans died today.

 As I put them on, my toe went through the seat.  Big hole.  I nearly cried.  These are my comfy jeans, the ones I’m sure look good.  The ones that are never irritating.  They’re a lovely lightweight denim, soft as butter, and they hug me like a lover.  As often as I wore them, it’s a wonder they lasted as long as they did.

 Blue jeans are kinda like people.  There are all shapes and sizes and colors, and most of them are good, but a few are evil.  Some are a fashion flash in the pan, good for a short time but quickly discarded.  Some you never like, though you may not really know why.   Some are okay for a few hours but not comfortable for long stretches.  Some seemed to fit when you bought them but later shrink or stretch or end up too short.

 But now and then you find just the right pair.  The color is soft and faded, the fabric doesn’t rub, and the waste doesn’t pinch.  After a few hours, you forget they’re not sweats.  And then one magic day, you take a nap in them and when you wake up, they still feel good.  They are a joy and a comfort.  And you love them more than any item in your closet.

 So I’m in mourning now.  Their time is over, and all I have left is a handful of worn denim that I will never sew into a quilt, although I’ll add it to the bag of jeans saved for someday.  Not a single pair of the jeans left in my closet will ever replace them.  None of them are quite right.

 I think I’ll go shopping.

The Zen of Cooking

Saturday, February 7th, 2009

I really should be cooking dinner.

I’m a really good cook.  I learned watching my grandmother, who could make boiled shoes taste good.  I started helping her when I was so small I had to stand on a chair to reach the counter.  She would let me mix and add ingredients or let me taste, and I watched everything she did.  She made dumplings by pouring milk into a mound of flour on the counter.  She measured by dropping salt into her hand, dumping a little sugar in and then a little more, cutting a hunk from a stick of butter or scooping out a huge spoon of mayonnaise.  It always came out right.

Cooking is therapeutic.   It’s the best Zen practice I know, the only way I’ve ever found to be present in the moment consistently.  I can zone out while mixing and chopping and grinding.  I can enjoy the rhythm of the knife chopping veggies, the feel of dough pushing back as I kneed, the sound of sizzling oil and meat in a hot skillet.  Just cooking.  None of the day to day problems of life,  nothing to take my attention from what I am doing right now.

I almost never cook anymore.  Over the last few years, life got in the way of cooking, and I got out of the habit.  I miss it sometimes, but when the mood hits now, I find I no longer have ingredients in the pantry.  I buy spaghetti sauce in cans and vegetables already chopped and frozen.  Convenience over communion.

Someday, when my life is calm again, I will spend long hours in the kitchen decorating cakes and  making stews and feeding sourdough starter.  I’ll take the time to make big green salads and fresh pasta.  I’ll can tomatoes and beans and fresh corn.  I will revel in the peace of a sunlit kitchen and the joy of simple work.

But for now, I’ll order pizza.

Remembering Service

Wednesday, February 4th, 2009

I had air put in my right rear tire today.  It made me happy.  It also makes me happy to have my pressure checked and even to buy new tires.  Seems weird, I know.  But I totally enjoy it.

When I was a child, I lived in a world of service.  Gas came from a place called a “service” station where your windshield was washed and your oil checked.  Grocers delivered, as did the milk man.  And a downtown shopping trip was like a day at a spa.  I remember sitting in a big, comfy chair as a sales person showed dresses or coats or shoes and handbags.  Each thing was presented as if it had been chosen just for you.  Then the same person would help as you tried on each thing, finding accessories, offering alterations, sharing opinions.  Lunch was at a downtown cafe, where the hostess asked where you’d like to sit and the waitress remembered your favorite sandwich.  The afternoon held the promise of being pampered by attentive sales people.

Today, I shop in malls.  Usually the mall is crowded enough to make just walking into a store stressful.  Finding sales help is a crap-shoot.  If you’re lucky, a kid will point in the direction of whatever you’re looking for, and then if you manage to find it, you can stand in line for fifteen minutes to pay for it.  Then you can stand in line to get some generic food and stop by the gas station on the way home to pump your own.

It’s probably faster for me to stop and pick up my own groceries, pump my own gas instead of waiting for the attendant to help the person in front of me, flip through a rack to find a dress I like, and eat fast food.  It’s easy and I have no problem doing these things.  I didn’t even really notice the service disappearing from my life.  One day it was just gone, and the world was a more impersonal, kinda lonely place.  But every now and then a little bit of the world that’s gone creeps in, and it can make my whole day.  Tiny, surprising bits of service can turn an ordinary errand into a relaxing break.

So I love getting air in my tires.  I love pulling my car in to the tire center and having the owner at my window within a minute asking how he can help.  I love sitting in my car and watching half a dozen men working as fast as they can to change tires, fix tires, air up tires, etc.  It’s like watching a greasy ballet.  Each one concentrates on his job and does his best to give excellent service as quickly as he can.  There are a dozen cars to work on, but each driver is greeted quickly, serviced quickly, and sent on his way with the owner’s thanks.  It’s nice to be treated as if I matter, as if serving my needs is important to them.  Knowing that I can trust them to take good care of my needs that I don’t have to worry about this one thing, that they are doing their best for me, allows me to relax and enjoy a few quiet moments as I wait for the work to be done.  And I go on my way feeling good about people.  And maybe I pass some of that good feeling along.